Saturday, February 14, 2004

About that flying exam

Dan, there's a big hole in your story.

White House communications director Dan Bartlett -- the man who Bill Burkett said was in charge of "scrubbing" George W. Bush's military records -- today gave the official version of why Bush didn't take that required physical:
White House communications director Dan Bartlett said Bush's flying exam expired on his birthday, July 6, 1972. He did not take his next exam because "he was in non-flying capacity in another state" and knew he would be there for months.

"There was no need or reason for him to take a flying exam," Bartlett said, adding that allegations that he ducked the physical were "just outrageously false."

Actually, it is Bartlett's characterization of the situation that is outrageously false.

As Walter Robinson at the Boston Globe observed today:
Earlier this week, two retired National Guard generals told the Globe that it was almost unheard of for a military aviator to miss an annual flight physical. And the Globe reported that Guard regulations would have required an investigation of Bush's failure to take the physical.

But the new records contain no hint of any such inquiry.

Bartlett told reporters that Bush did not have to take the exam in mid-1972 because he had moved temporarily to Alabama and was going to perform his duty in nonflying status.

Indeed, here are the pertinent details from that earlier story:
Two retired National Guard generals, in interviews yesterday, said they were surprised that Bush -- or any military pilot -- would forgo a required annual flight physical and take no apparent steps to rectify the problem and return to flying. "There is no excuse for that. Aviators just don't miss their flight physicals," said Major General Paul A. Weaver Jr., who retired in 2002 as the Pentagon's director of the Air National Guard, in an interview.

Brigadier General David L. McGinnis, a former top aide to the assistant secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, said in an interview that Bush's failure to remain on flying status amounts to a violation of the signed pledge by Bush that he would fly for at least five years after he completed flight school in November 1969.

"Failure to take your flight physical is like a failure to show up for duty. It is an obligation you can't blow off," McGinnis said.

And, once again, why this matters to the question of the records release:
The order required Bush to acknowledge the suspension in writing and also said: "The local commander who has authority to convene a Flying Evaluation Board will direct an investigation as to why the individual failed to accomplish the medical examination." After that, the commander had two options -- to convene the Evaluation Board to review Bush's suspension or forward a detailed report on his case up the chain of command.

Either way, officials said yesterday, there should have been a record of the investigation.

The materials released yesterday -- the supposedly "complete records" -- contain no such materials. There should either be a CO's investigation report, or the record of a Flying Evaluation Board proceeding.

Where are they, Dan Bartlett?

And please, try not to lie quite so transparently next time. After awhile, real reporters tire of having their intelligence insulted. And there are still at least one or two of those still left in the press corps -- though you'd no doubt wish otherwise.

You see, in Bartlett's version of events, George W. Bush -- future president and all -- simply was able to unilaterally choose to ignore his obligations as a highly trained jet pilot and go work in the Blount campaign in Alabama, having his duties become those of a postal clerk instead because that was what Bush wanted to do.

And indeed, it is apparent that this is generally what Bush decided to do. He moved to Alabama sometime that summer and went to work for Blount without even consulting his superiors, while simultaneously seeking to have his Texas Air National Guard pilot's duties transferred to the Alabama postal unit.

Problem is, of course, that his superiors at headquarters were not so enamored of the idea. After all, the taxpayers had just invested the equivalent in today's money of about a million dollars' worth of training in young Mr. Bush. They promptly disallowed the transfer, noting that according to National Guard regs, "an obligated Reservist can be assigned to a specific Ready Reserve position only. Therefore, he is ineligible for assignment to an Air Reserve Squadron."

On Aug. 1, 1972, Bush was suspended from flight duty for skipping the physical.

Finally, on Sept. 5, -- a full month after the suspension -- Bush reapplied for a transfer with Col. Jerry Killian. His transfer request was not approved until Sept. 15, 1972.

In other words, Bush blew off his physical in July, and was suspended from duty in August, well before it was even clear that he would be allowed to transfer to Alabama. In fact, contrary to Bartlett's version of things, it is quite clear that when he declined to take the physical, it was anything but clear that he would be allowed to transfer.

Moreover, the point of a physical is that it clears you for service for the ensuing year. If Bush intended to resume flying when he got back to Texas, as his would-be biographers seem to be claiming, he'd have had to take the July physical anyway. So why didn't he?

Nothing released by the White House so far answers these core questions.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall points out that this same timelime demolishes, with a certain finality, the claims of John C. "Bill" Calhoun. Oops, indeed.

Friday, February 13, 2004

AWOL: "Debunker" debunked

First came the Washington Post story in which an Alabama National Guardsman finally comes forward (long after that $1,000 reward was posted) and says he remembers George W. Bush serving with him:
A Republican close to Bush supplied phone numbers yesterday for the owner of an insulated-coating business in the Atlanta area, John B. "Bill" Calhoun, 69, who was an officer with the Alabama Air National Guard. Calhoun said in a telephone interview that Bush used to sit in his office and read magazines and flight manuals as he performed weekend duty at Dannelly Field in Montgomery during 1972.

Calhoun estimated that he saw Bush sign in at the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group eight to 10 times for about eight hours each from May to October 1972. He said the two occasionally grabbed a sandwich in the snack bar.

"He'd sit on my couch and read training manuals and accident reports and stuff like that," Calhoun said. "The pilots would read those so they would see what other guys did wrong. . . . He never complained about coming."

Calhoun, a retired lieutenant colonel who said he was the group's flying safety officer and later its plans officer, described Bush as "a typical fighter pilot -- he was aggressive with his talk."

... Calhoun said he is a Republican but has not talked to Bush since 1972. Calhoun faxed The Washington Post military records that show he worked at Dannelly Field when he said he saw Bush. One of the sheets is signed by William R. Turnipseed, a retired brigadier general who was an officer in the Montgomery unit. Bush was supposed to report to him, but Turnipseed has said he does not recall seeing Bush.

However, there were numerous holes in Calhoun's story -- not the least of which is that the dates of his service don't match up with those for Bush.

My friend Joel S. wrote in to the Washington Post reporters pointing out these issues:
The Allen and Romano story in the Washington Post, as well as related wire service stories gives considerable credence to Bill Calhoun as a witness to George Bush's attendance at drill in Alabama.

Yet Calhoun is claiming extensive Bush attendance for the most part at a time when Bush had not gotten orders for Alabama and for signins not claimed on Bush's attendance record. This is 64-80 hours of time on base, unrecorded anywhere except in Calhoun's memory. A number of members of the squadron deny ever seeing Bush.

This deserved to have better foundation before being published, especially since one of those who claims to have served with Bush, one Colonel William Campenni, also claims to have been in (a) graduate school (presumably through spring 1972) or (b) in the Pennsylvania Air Guard as a fully qualified pilot performing heroic deeds (presumably later in 1972).

Kevin Drum at Calpundit, who has really taken the lead in chasing down many of this story's loose ends, points out even more inconsistencies in Calhoun's story.

CBS also interviewed Calhoun -- however, its story also pointed out the holes in Calhoun's version of events:
But Calhoun's account appears to be at odds with records released by the White House. They show that President Bush logged no Guard duty -- anywhere -- from April 17th until October 28th.

And former Guard Pilot Bob Mintz -- who was with the Alabama unit at the time -- says the base was all abuzz about a politically-connected Lieutenant coming in. But Mintz claims he never saw Mr. Bush -- and expects the newcomer would have stood out.

"I just don't see how you could, ah, walk into a military squadron of people who are intimately familiar with each other and their jobs and things and not recognize him as a stranger, ya know?" said Mintz.

Reporters at today's press briefing asked press secretary Scott McClellan about the holes in Calhoun's story, since McClellan had been referring to the Boston Globe article in which it appeared all day as a kind of catch-all exoneration of the whole affair:
Q Can I ask you a question, Scott? I just want to be absolutely clear on something here. The records that you released earlier this week on the President's Guard service state that he did not perform any Guard service in the third quarter of 1972. That's correct?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you have the records in front of you, and they state the dates on which he was paid. And you are paid for the days on which you serve.

Q So they state that between April 16th of 1972 and October 28th of 1972 he did no Guard duty.

MR. McCLELLAN: We've been through these issues, John, and we've provided you with the documents that show his service.

Q And do you believe that's correct, that he did no duty between April 16th and October 28th?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, I don't know why we need to go through this again. This issue we've been through earlier this week.

Q Well, the reason I bring up the question is that John Calhoun, who claims he was the person in charge of making sure that President Bush reported for duty at the 187th Tactical Recon Group, says that he saw the President several times on the base between May and October of 1972, yet there is no record of him being there, in terms of what you released earlier this week.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't speak for him. You would have to talk to Mr. Calhoun. I do not know him.

Q We did talk to Mr. Calhoun, and Mr. Calhoun said that he saw the President several times between May and October of 1972.

MR. McCLELLAN: And like I've said --

Q So I was just wondering, can you explain that discrepancy?

MR. McCLELLAN: And like I've said, the President doesn't recall the specific dates on which he performed his duties. He does remember serving both in Alabama and in Texas. During that entire period, he was a member of the Texas Air National Guard.

Q But the records that you released do recall quite specifically the days that the President served on. There's no record of his being there --

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, these are National Guard records that document the President did serve during that time period. And that was an issue that was raised earlier this week.

Q Right. But the records clearly recall that he did no Guard duty between April 16th and October 28th. Yet, Mr. Calhoun says he saw him on the base at the 187th between May and October of '72. So there's a discrepancy here. I'm wondering if you can explain it?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, again, we've provided you with the records and the facts are in the records that we have.

Q A good point. Could the records be incomplete?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Could the records be incomplete?

MR. McCLELLAN: Direct that question to the National Guard. These are the personnel records that we've received.

Also worth noting: the Boston Globe appeared to severely undermine Bill Burkett's account of observing underlings "scrubbing" the Bush files, but even it only discounts Burkett's substantiation; none of the witnesses dispute that Burkett saw what he says he saw. At worst, Burkett's story becomes a she said/he said matter.

Not that any of these particularly matter. As I've said all along, the undisputed facts of the case -- Bush's failure to take a physical and subsequenting grounding; and his absence without leave for at least a six-month period -- are damning enough. And they continue to raise questions.

Notice, for instance, that the subject of Bush's failure to take the exam continues to be something that press secretary Scott McClellan refuses to even admit, let alone discuss? He refused to even explore the issue tangentially again with Helen Thomas, as Josh Marshall reports.

Notice, by the way, how McClellan cleanly evades giving any kind of answer -- neither denying nor confirming. And in reply to any questions about the factual aspects of Bush's record, McClellan holds up an irrelevant Boston Globe article as a shield -- one that, a little while later, it became clear had a few holes in it anyway.

Down in Memphis

This strange case caught my interest:
Memphis Coroner Charged

As the story details, O.C. Smith, the medical examiner in question, was arrested for lying about being attacked by a bomber back in June of 2002. Smith has overseen some extremely unusual cases in the past few years -- including the one that led to the bizarre incident at the center of his arrest. The current charges result from a grand-jury investigation.

The Post story describes that incident briefly:
Smith was discovered June 1, 2002, wrapped in barbed wire in a stairwell outside his office with a bomb strapped to him. He said he was attacked by an unknown assailant who threw a chemical in his face to blind him.

An Associated Press report from June 2002 explains further:
While the attacker's identity remains a mystery, authorities say they've found links to several similar bombs and three threatening letters concerning the medical examiner's testimony in a death penalty case.

"We think the letter writer is the person we're looking for," James Cavanaugh, agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for Tennessee, said Monday.

Smith, 49, was attacked as he left work Saturday night and was found 2 1/2 hours later lying in a parking lot.

A bomb squad removed the device and Smith escaped without serious injury, returning to the scene with minor cuts and bruises to assist authorities. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, including a profiler, and the FBI were called in.

Smith, who has declined to talk with reporters since the attack, was left in the parking lot of the Shelby County Regional Forensic Center on the campus of the University of Tennessee medical school. He suffered a burn on his face from a chemical thrown or sprayed in his eyes to subdue him.

Cavanaugh described the attacker as a 20- to 30-year-old male.

Gene Marquez, the ATF agent in charge in Memphis, said the bomb strapped to Smith was similar to three other "unsophisticated" explosive devices found in March in a hallway near Smith's lab.

All the devices were designed to hurt people, Marquez said.

The language in a letter from the bomber to a Memphis reporter ran thus:
"I received HOLY ORDERS from a MESSANGER OF GOD on Friday in the FORM of Robert HUTTON (Hutton is Workman's attorney), son of the ONE TRUE CHURCH speaking to me through the Mike Fleming show. He told me the LIAR, O.C. SMITH, a DOCTOR-KILLER committing two MORTAL SINS. He is BEARING FALSE WITNESS with his lies decit and untruths in an effort to MURDER PHILLIP (sic) R. WORKMAN.

"Long have I waited for my HOLY ORDER to fight against the DOCTOR- KILLER abortionists but now I know OUR LORD was saving me for something larger.

"Through your help I understand better the "Little General" commands a host of DEMONS doing the work of SATAN in CESAR's WORLD.


Well, I'm not an expert, but relatively experienced in reading extremist documents, and this strikes me as relatively genuine. Fairly typical, in many respects. If Smith was the source of these letters -- which seems to be the prosecutor's suggestion, though the matter may not come up in the course of the trial -- they seem to indicate either that a) he is unusually well versed in these kinds of threats, and unusually conniving, or b) the investigators are in the process of repeating the Richard Jewell nightmare on a smaller scale.

It will be interesting to see if prosecutors can prove the former.

A limb off the ol' Bircher tree

Round up the chillun, Ma. The Yew-Nighted Nations is after 'em agin.

Fortunately, the Utah Legislature is on the case.

On Tuesday, House Republicans in Salt Lake City nearly succeeded in bringing to the floor a House resolution asking the U.S. Congress to "consider" withdrawing the country from the United Nations. As the Salt Lake Tribune reported:
After nearly an hour of debate, a mostly Republican committee voted 9-2 to move the resolution to the House floor, calling the U.N. a financial drain on the federal government and a threat to America's sovereignty.

"International treaties trump all our sovereign laws, simple things like free speech and freedom of the press," said Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns. "In 60 years, our children may live in a world where the [U.S.] Constitution has no authority. If you gradually surrender your voice, you may not have a voice in the future."

Asking the Utah Legislature to denounce the U.N. is like asking George Bush to cuddle up to corporate bigwigs. It's like dangling candy before a three-year-old. Like, duh!

Ah, the but the forces of goodness and light were vanquished by the evil Committee Monster on Thursday:
The committee was packed with supporters of the resolution and a smattering of United Nations supporters.

Vicki Peterson, a lobbyist on family issues to the United Nations, told lawmakers of her own experiences with a U.N. agenda that promotes homosexuality and prostitution, and how it wants to go so far as to eliminate Mother's Day.

On the other side, Kathryn Horvat reminded the committee of the United Nation's role in eradicating smallpox and polio.

Yeah, but promoting homosexuality and prostitution is evil, dontcha know? Lying about them isn't -- not if you do it in the name of protecting our children, anyway.

The paths of extremism

Some of you may have read about the arrest in my neck of the woods yesterday that raised some headlines, like this one in the P-I:
Soldier accused of trying to aid al-Qaida

Federal agents yesterday arrested a member of the Washington National Guard days away from being sent to Iraq and accused him of trying to pass military intelligence to the terrorist group al-Qaida.

Spc. Ryan G. Anderson was arrested at Fort Lewis without incident, and was taken to the base's jail. His arrest came after a sting operation.

In his Everett high school, Anderson showed a strong interest in government. At Washington State University, he worried about his right to possess rifles on campus and inquired about converting to Islam. And later in Seattle, he tried to interest fellow Muslims in shooting.

Actually, this only begins to describe Ryan Anderson's tortuous political path -- which began as a right-wing extremist. If he was genuinely attracted to radical Islamism, it would likely be because it displayed the same kind of Manichean dualism as did the onetime objects of his admiration, the Montana Freemen.

Back in the 1990s, he was posting all the time on the Usenet's militia forums while studying at Washington State University in Pullman. He was all worked up about his Second Amendment rights on campus. At one point, he advertised his interest in joining a "Washington state militia." At other times, he commented sympathetically about the Freemen's standoff in Montana.

Finally, he appears to have dropped out of the militia forums (with a fond adieu to the "Patriots"), and shortly thereafter, advertised his interest in converting to Islam.

One has to wonder if this is someone who watched too many damn movies and thought he could infiltrate Muslim terrorist cells -- playing the hero's role in the big silver screen of his own mind. (I wouldn't be surprised if he had the same thing in mind when it came to joining a militia cell.) Certainly, he strikes me as unstable.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Press gaggle

Boy, some exchanges just speak for themselves.

From Wednesday's press briefing with White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan:
Q Coming back to John's question real briefly. One of the questions that remain after the release of the documents yesterday involves the President's physical in 1972. Are you guys talking about what happened there and why he didn't take --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think this was all addressed previously. I think that, again, this goes to show that some are not interested in the facts of whether or not he served; they're interested in trolling for trash and using this issue for partisan political gain.

Q What was the answer previous to this?

MR. McCLELLAN: What's the question?

Q On the question of --

MR. McCLELLAN: See, I mean, there are some that want us to engage in gutter politics. I'm not going to engage in gutter politics. I'm going to focus on what we're doing --

Q But you were suggesting you'd answered the question previously.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- to address the priorities for the American people. We went through this in 1994, I believe again in '98, 2000. Now some are trying to bring it up again in 2004.

Q Scott, can I ask, in 2004, just again, why did the President miss his physical?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Why did the President miss his physical?

MR. McCLELLAN: Are you talking about when he -- whether or not he -- I put out a response to that question yesterday, about whether or not he was rated by his commanders as a pilot.

Q Can I just ask you today, in 2004 --


Q -- why he missed his physical?

MR. McCLELLAN: Elisabeth, there are some that -- again, this is a question of whether or not he served. That question has been answered through the documents that were released yesterday, and released previously.

Q I just want to hear from the White House Press Secretary --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not -- no, there are some -- Elisabeth, we've already addressed this issue. I'm not going to engage in gutter politics. I'm going to focus on what we're doing to make the world safer, to make the world a better place, and to make America more prosperous. If others want to engage in gutter politics, that's their choice. But I think that --

Q How is asking that question engaging in gutter politics?

MR. McCLELLAN: But I think the American people -- I think the American people deserve better.

Q Scott, how does that engage in gutter politics if I ask that question?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've been through these issues. I wasn't accusing you. I'm accusing some -- (Laughter.) But, you see, we went through --

Q -- the answer to that question today?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, we went through these -- no, we went -- we've already addressed this issue. We went through it previously. We went through it four years ago, for sure.

Ron Ziegler would have been proud of him.

AWOL update

Ask, and you shall receive, from the Boston Globe's Walter Robinson [via Atrios]:
Bush's loss of flying status should have spurred probe

This story really zeroes in on Bush's failure to take the physical, which as we've noted here from the start, has always been part of the established record, and it raises serious questions in itself:
Two retired National Guard generals, in interviews yesterday, said they were surprised that Bush -- or any military pilot -- would forgo a required annual flight physical and take no apparent steps to rectify the problem and return to flying. "There is no excuse for that. Aviators just don't miss their flight physicals," said Major General Paul A. Weaver Jr., who retired in 2002 as the Pentagon's director of the Air National Guard, in an interview.

Brigadier General David L. McGinnis, a former top aide to the assistant secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, said in an interview that Bush's failure to remain on flying status amounts to a violation of the signed pledge by Bush that he would fly for at least five years after he completed flight school in November 1969.

"Failure to take your flight physical is like a failure to show up for duty. It is an obligation you can't blow off," McGinnis said.

And then, significantly, it points to the real core of the matter:
The order required Bush to acknowledge the suspension in writing and also said: "The local commander who has authority to convene a Flying Evaluation Board will direct an investigation as to why the individual failed to accomplish the medical examination." After that, the commander had two options -- to convene the Evaluation Board to review Bush's suspension or forward a detailed report on his case up the chain of command.

Either way, officials said yesterday, there should have been a record of the investigation.

Kudos to Robinson, whose reportage provided the genesis for the story back in 2000.

Meanwhile, along a related front, comes this piece from USA Today:
Ex-officer: Bush file's details caused concern

WASHINGTON -- As Texas Gov. George W. Bush prepared to run for president in the late 1990s, top-ranking Texas National Guard officers and Bush advisers discussed ways to limit the release of potentially embarrassing details from Bush's military records, a former senior officer of the Texas Guard said Wednesday.

A second former Texas Guard official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, was told by a participant that commanders and Bush advisers were particularly worried about mentions in the records of arrests of Bush before he joined the National Guard in 1968, the second official said.

Bill Burkett, then a top adviser to the state Guard commander, said he overheard conversations in which superiors discussed "cleansing" the file of damaging information.

As noted below, Burkett's story could be significant, though it does come with some caveats raised by Kevin Drum. However, Drum went a long way toward resolving some of these issues with his excellent interview with Burkett, which everyone should read.

Finally, an excellent read comes via the Progressive Southerner, about just what George W. Bush was doing in Alabama while skipping out on Guard duty and a flight physical:
George W. Bush's Lost Year in 1972 Alabama

Especially noteworthy is this nugget, deep in the story:
One of Bush's duties as "campaign coordinator," according to his official title in the newspapers, was to stay in contact by phone with campaign managers in Alabama's 67 counties, and to handle the distribution of all campaign materials, Archibald says. That material included a pamphlet accusing Sparkman of being soft on the race issue. It also included a doctored tape from a radio debate distorting Sparkman's position on busing.

Sparkman was forced to deny a series of false charges linking him with McGovern, the South Dakota presidential candidate who became the first in the modern era to be tainted and stomped as a "liberal." The pamphlet distributed to campaign workers and leaked to the press charged Sparkman with favoring drastic defense cuts, big federal spending, abandoning American POWs in Vietnam, a guaranteed wage for every American, relaxing drug laws, amnesty for draft dodgers ? and "forced busing."

The Birmingham News ran the transcript of the doctored radio tape on November 6, the day before the election, which made it appear Sparkman was in favor of busing black and white children miles across towns to "mix" the public schools. The literature of the campaign echoed the winning conservative Senate race of Ed Gurney in Florida, also dreamed up by Allison and company. Blount's campaign, awash in cash with twice the money of Sparkman's, paid for billboards across the state proclaiming: "A vote for Red Blount is a vote against forced busing . . . against coddling criminals . . . against welfare freeloaders."

No wonder Bush and Lee Atwater were such buddies.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

AWOL: The other shoe

The news on the AWOL front is breaking all around, with the story unfolding in ways that could perhaps have been expected. As Atrios and Kevin Drum at Calpundit have reported, this morning's Dallas Morning News quoted former Guardsman Bill Burkett regarding the "scrubbing" of Bush's military record he says he witnessed:
Retired National Guard Lt. Col. Bill Burkett said Tuesday that in 1997, then-Gov. Bush's chief of staff, Joe Allbaugh, told the National Guard chief to get the Bush file and make certain "there's not anything there that will embarrass the governor."

Col. Burkett said that a few days later at Camp Mabry in Austin, he saw Mr. Bush's file and documents from it discarded in a trash can. He said he recognized the documents as retirement point summaries and pay forms.

Bush aides denied any destruction of records in Mr. Bush's personnel file. "The charges are just flat-out not true," said Dan Bartlett, White House communications director.

I've reported in detail on Burkett's story previously (here and here). Nonetheless, I think Kevin Drum's caveats are well worth heeding. (FWIW, I've been trying for the past week to contact Burkett to interview him and have not had any success tracking him down.)

Regardless, the story is moving in largely the right direction. The press, hot on the heels of answering the key question (Why won't Bush release his records?) I raised a little while back, is now avidly wondering about the next question (Was there tampering with the records that we have?), though none of them so far have tackled the significance of the "torn document."

So now maybe it's time for them to ask the next logical question:
What about the Flight Inquiry Board?

As I mentioned some time ago, one of the hard facts we know about the case is that Bush blew off his required physical and was suspended from flight duty. This has some serious implications:
The reality is servicemen do not ordinarily have the option of deciding whether or not to attend drills. They do not typically have the option of shortening their commitment to the task for which they have been trained based solely on their own assessments of where they fit into the scheme of things. Those decision are made by their superiors. Moreover, the military considers the training of its personnel to be a significant asset that it protects, particularly for high-skill positions like jet-fighter pilots. This training is expensive, and pilots' status -- particularly their availability for potential combat -- is a carefully monitored commodity.

Moreover, as Bob Rogers has pointed out:
In the Air National Guard, expensively trained pilots are not casually suspended. There is normally a Flight Inquiry Board, which exercises the military chain of command's obligation to insure due process. If one had been convened, its three senior officer members would have documented why such a severe action was justified in relation to the country's military objectives at the time, as opposed to the simple desire of a trained pilot to just "give up flying".

In the event of serious misconduct, such as substance abuse, a Flight Inquiry Board would have determined the appropriate punishment. The punishments could have included temporary or permanent 'grounding,' a career-damaging letter of reprimand, forced reenlistment in the US Army with active duty in Vietnam, or a less-than honorable discharge.

In fact, there is no evidence now in the public domain that a Flight Inquiry Board was convened to deal with Bush's official reclassification to a non-flying, grounded status. However, the records of such a Board would not be subject to an ordinary FOIA request because of privacy protections under FOIA.

This absence of a Flight Inquiry Board is of particular interest to veteran pilots who are intimately familiar with normal disciplinary procedures. In the absence of Bush's releasing his complete service record, the implication is that Bush's misconduct in regards to "his failure to accomplish annual medical examination" was handled like everything else in his military service: aided and abetted by powerful family connections with total disregard for the needs of the military as well as Bush's solemn oath.

This point is especially relevant in light of Kevin Drum's great work at Calpundit, in which he obtained a copy of the "untorn document" -- whose dates, he also found, don't match up with actual service dates in Alabama -- and uncovered that it may actually demonstrate that Bush was placed, after his suspension, in the Air Reserve Forces, which would indicate he had been punished by his superiors.

And that punishment, in fact, may well be what Bush is trying to hide here, since it would be an embarrassing blemish on any Commander in Chief's record. That's why the questions about the Flight Inquiry Board -- Was one called? If not, why not? If so, why haven't we seen these records? -- are so important.


REFERENCE NOTE: For the sake of handiness, I've decided to compile chronologically all my posts dealing with the AWOL issue (or in which it is brought up). The first one dates back to May (though my involvement in this story dates back to 2000, when I tried pitching it, unsuccessfully, to my bosses at MSNBC and the editors at Salon):

Flyboy Bush

Bush the Liar

Bush the 'Deserter'

AWOL Bush: Debunked? Hardly!

A quick question

Howling about AWOL

All AWOL all the time

Drip drip drop


AWOL again

AWOL: The next question, please

An AWOL aphorism

Talkin' AWOL

Tim Russert goes AWOL

Silberman: 'Not bravado, but arrogance'

Michelle Goldberg at Salon has up an excellent profile of Laurence Silberman, the right-wing legal fixer who's been named co-chair of the "intelligence failure" investigation panel:
The partisan "mastermind" in charge of Bush's intel probe

You may note that a lot of the material in this piece may seem familiar (and if I had a suspicious mind, I'd wonder if Goldberg were cribbing notes -- though even if she were, her piece reads much more readily than my data dump). She notably gets in some fresh quotes from David Brock, Ralph Neas and Kevin Phillips, the latter of whom sums it up best:
"Even the word 'chutzpah' does not describe this appointment of Silberman," Phillips said. "This is not bravado, but arrogance."

It's probably not the first time that someone has noticed that it seems nothing is out of bounds for the Bush administration -- and it probably won't be the last.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Hate crimes, democracy, and freedom

In the comments responding to the post about my forthcoming book, Death on the Fourth of July:A Hate Crime, a Killing, and a Trial in Small-Town America, CivLib responds to my parenthetical remark, "You'd be surprised how many liberals oppose the laws, primarily for civil-libertarian reasons" thus:
Concerning "hate crimes laws": I don't know why it would be so surprising that many liberals would oppose those.

I generally oppose, as a matter of principle, anything which increases penalties for existing crimes, which adds new offenses to the books which were not previously offenses, which results in more people going to prison for longer periods, or which results in more rights being taken away.

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, yet it seems too many liberals and conservatives want to outdo each other in locking even more people up. When is it going to stop?

This is not an entirely new argument, course -- in fact, it is the core of the civil libertarians' argument against hate-crimes laws. It's an argument I respect, because -- unlike, say, the religious-right folks who attack the laws because it "infringes on their civil liberties" (as though violent crimes were a basic right), or the brain-dead Republicans (see, e.g., George W. Bush) who argue that "all crimes are a hate crime" -- it is not based on fallacy but on serious and legitimate concerns. (A variant of it can be found in the James Jacobs and Kimberly Potter text, Hate Crimes: Criminal Law and Identity Politics.) However, like the others, it misapprehends the nature of both the crimes and the laws against them.

First of all, it must be pointed out that proportionality in punishment is a basic and long-established feature of the law. It is the basis for the difference between first-degree murder and manslaughter -- both are predicated on the death of another person, but both vary widely in the kinds of punishment they receive. There are multiple categories of assault, depending both on harm to the victim and the perpetrator's intent and motive.

Hate-crime laws simply recognize that hate crimes innately inflict greater harm, both on the victim and the broader community, as well as to the basic underpinnings of democratic society. They make painting a swastika on a synagogue a more grievous crime than the simple act of vandalism it might otherwise be. Likewise a skinhead "stomping" of a minority is treated more egregiously than a bar fight.

The principle to which CivLib refers is a reasonably sound one: Sentencing ranges should not be enhanced willy-nilly, and too many laws directing predetermined sentences for certain crimes can both hamstring the judiciary and create a hodgepodge of "enhancements" that gum up the system of justice. This is especially the case with the minmum sentences that have been passed on behalf of drug laws.

But this is a problem for the entire body of the law. Moreover, there is a clear need for sentence enhancement when the greater harm is clear. What's needed, of course, is a balance -- and when it comes to weeding out those enhancements that are excessive, the level of harm should be the greatest priority. This harm is hardly clear in the case of drug crime, for instance. Hate crimes, however, another matter altogether.

Hate-crime laws are indeed relatively new laws, and understanding them in some regards requires rearranging our traditional ways of thinking. Certainly, it requires dispelling many long-favored myths. But in the final analysis, they represent something that, given the perspective of history, is a long thread running through American culture, something many of us almost instinctively understand -- that is, the ethical imperative to stand up against the bullies and the thugs and the nightriders, because their whole purpose is to terrorize, oppress and disenfranchise the people they deem different or "not American." Hate-crime laws at their core draw on Americans' sense of decency and fair play, and to the extent they are enforced fairly and adequately, they are an important reflection of those traits.

The old anti-lynching laws from which hate-crime laws are descended were never approved, mostly because of the vehement opposition of the Deep South. But the spirit that drove them has remained alive and resurfaced in more congenial times.

Boston University Law School professor Frederick Lawrence, perhaps, sums it up best in his text Punishing Hate: Bias Crimes in American Law:
If bias crimes are not punished more harshly than parallel crimes, the implicit message expressed by the criminal justice system is that racial harmony and equality are not among the highest values in our society. If a racially motivated assault is punished identically to a parallel assault, the racial motivation of the bias crime is rendered largely irrelevant and thus not part of that which is condemned. The individual victim, the target community, and indeed the society at large thus suffer the twin insults akin to those suffered by Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. Not only has the crime itself occurred, but the underlying hatred of the crime is invisible to the eyes of the legal system.

It's important to keep in mind also the nature of hate crimes, and what their real-world effect is. They are "message" crimes, and their message is: Go away. You and your kind are not welcome here. They undercut not only the basic values of equality and fair play, but the actual, real-world freedom of anyone who happens not to be a straight white Christian. They're all about intimidation and exclusionism and subjugation and terrorization, an intent that really cuts against the meaning of American democracy itself.

I know this from direct experience as a journalist in rural places, where these kinds of crimes are clearly intended to drive minorities out and, in the case of gays and lesbians particularly, subjugate them to humiliating violence.

Ken Toole, a native Montanan (and state senator) who runs that state's Human Rights Network, knows all about the fear minorities have of rural places like his home state. "I've experienced that firsthand, in talking with African American people on airplanes, et cetera, and their perception that Montana's not a safe place. And I think that stems from hate-crime incidents, but is more heartily reinforced by the presence of Militia of Montana, Aryan Nations, and things like that. It all feeds together.

"Here in Montana, in lily-white Montana, we spend all this time engaged in a debate whether or not these groups are white supremacist. Your average person of color doesn't even have that debate. They just know it."

Toole says that when the image of a place as a haven for haters is combined with news stories of real-life hate crimes, the result is a widespread desire by minorities to avoid that place at all costs. "What you end up with is, we've heard about African American people being transferred to Montana and rejecting the transfers," Toole says, noting that it is something of a commonplace that rural people avoid the cities out of an irrational fear of crime committed by minorities: "There's very little question in my mind that, yeah, we rural folk maybe get a little nervous about the deep colors of the inner city, but that is very much a two-way street."

Perhaps of equal significance are the real-world ramifications of this fear for both minorities and the places they fear to visit: an impoverishment of the nation's democratic underpinnings. As Yale University professor and hate-crime expert Donald Green points out, hate crimes succeed in making the nation indeed a smaller place for people of color, members of minority religions like Jews, and gays and lesbians.

"I think if you had to kind of step back and ask, 'Does hate crime pay?,' you'd say yes," Green says. "If the point of hate crimes is to terrorize the population into maintaining boundaries between these perpetrators and the victimized populations, at least in some areas -- certain parts of town, certain parts of the country, et cetera -- you know, certain kinds of romantic relationships, whatever -- then it does succeed in that. Because people really do feel that they have to constrain their behavior lest they open themselves up for attack. You know, gay men don't often hold hands in public. Black and white couples don't form spontaneously to the extent that you might expect based on their daily interactions.

"There are a lot of instances like that -- and you know, we all probably have interactions with people who, when they're invited to a certain part of town, say, 'Oh, I better not go there.' From my standpoint, you tend not to attract much notice from policymakers, but I think of that as a massive dead-weight loss of freedom.

"Even if you say, 'Ah, well, they would have spent their money in this restaurant, maybe they'll spend their money in some other restaurant,' and so it's a wash, just the fact that people feel less than free in a free country is a tragedy."

Green also argues that even seemingly insignificant incidents -- the kind police are prone to ignore or de-emphasize -- can contribute to the cumulative effect. "If you see a swastika on an overpass, you say, 'Well, you know, it's just a bunch of kids blowing off steam, it doesn't really mean anything,' but when you start to think about the kind of cumulative effects that that would have on a variety of people, both perpetrators and victims, then the result is considerable.

"And that's why I think that, while there's a segment of the law-enforcement community -- and even people like me in an unguarded moment -- that will say that in some respects the hate crimes laws have been a flop, the laws in fact have a substantial basis in theory. And that theory is that if you could somehow put a value on that dead-weight loss in freedom, it actually would be a significant sum. And therefore it does pay society to deter this kind of activity.

Hate-crimes laws are often depicted as a "liberal" cause mainly because they are seen as a kind of "minority rights" protection -- though as I argue in Death on the Fourth of July, that view of the laws is mostly a fallacy. The reality is much more significant -- for in fact, they codify in the law basic values of protecting the real civil liberties -- and the real freedom -- of all Americans. They are an attempt to deter the people in our society who would take that freedom away from their fellow citizens. In that sense, they are an important component of any kind of serious effort to enhance American civil liberties -- and our freedoms.

O'Reilly apologizes -- with a little spin

Well, whaddya know. Bill O'Reilly finally decided to pay the piper regarding his vow to apologize for succumbing to the Bush administration's propaganda.

Well, sort of. But not really.

Conservative U.S. anchor now skeptical about Bush

Conservative television news anchor Bill O'Reilly said Tuesday he was now skeptical about the Bush administration and apologized to viewers for supporting prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

The anchor of his own show on Fox News said he was sorry he gave the U.S. government the benefit of the doubt that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's weapons program poised an imminent threat, the main reason cited for going to war.

"I was wrong. I am not pleased about it at all and I think all Americans should be concerned about this," O'Reilly said in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America."

However, rather than facing the issue squarely, O'Reilly chose to deflect:
While critical of President Bush, O'Reilly said he did not think the president intentionally lied. Rather, O'Reilly blamed CIA Director George Tenet, who was appointed by former President Clinton.

"I don't know why Tenet still has his job."

He added: "I think every American should be very concerned for themselves that our intelligence is not as good as it should be."

A couple of things:

-- When you proclaim to the nation that you know for certain that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction -- as did not only Bush, but also Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Ari Fleischer and Colin Powell -- and then it turns out that he didn't ... well, that's a lie.

-- The CIA, in fact, gave probably the most accurate assessments of the situation, since its career analysts warned repeatedly that the Iraqi National Congress/Laurie Mylroie exhaust the administration was breathing was bad for their brains. Instead, you had the Cheney trundling over Langley to twist the CIA's arms in order to gin up the grist for their long-planned war mill.

The real question isn't why Tenet still has a job. It's why Cheney, Rumsfeld and Douglas Feith all still have jobs.

And ultimately, why George W. Bush has one as well.

[Link via Pandagon.]

Monday, February 09, 2004

Mel Gibson: Targeting Catholics

Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times had an incisive analysis recently of Mel Gibson's forthcoming film The Passion of the Christ that drills down to the core issue -- namely, that the problem with the film isn't so much the innate anti-Semitism. Rather, it is the radical brand of Catholicism that Gibson practices -- and which is, in reality, the real product that is being peddled in this film.
Critics debate 'The Passion,' Gibson evades the debate

Rutten identifies how the debate has been skewed by the uproar over its fairly transparent Jew-bashing:
Start with the fact that, from the outset, Gibson has allowed himself to be characterized as a Catholic and has reinforced that impression by seeking the Vatican's approval of his film and then publicizing a purported papal endorsement. Reams of sympathetic publicity continue to describe Gibson as "a devout Catholic."

In fact, he is not. Catholics belong to churches that recognize the pope as their religious leader. If you don't, you're not a Catholic. It's as simple as that. What Gibson would rather not discuss is his membership in a schismatic group that has appropriated various pious practices and sacramental rites from preconciliar Roman Catholicism, but which rejects the contemporary church's leaders and teachings. Among the most important of those teachings is a complete rejection of any interpretation of the Passion that attributes a particular or continuing responsibility for Christ's execution to the Jewish people.

Rutten goes on to point out Gibson's recent quotes in an interview with Peggy Noonan about how his father, Hutton Gibson -- a notorious Holocaust denier -- has been his spiritual mentor:
"My dad taught me my faith, and I believe what he taught me. The man never lied to me in his life."

Bill Berkowitz, in an article last year in Working for Change, outlined some of these beliefs:
News about the new church came on the heels of reports about the actor/director's latest film project -- the making of "The Passion" which, according to ABC News, is "rooted in a theological movement known as Catholic traditionalism that seeks to return the faith to its pre-1962 period, before the Pope issued what is known as Vatican II, a series of proclamations that did away with the notion that Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus."

Gibson's theology, writes Christopher Noxon in the New York Times, "is a strain of Catholicism rooted in the dictates of a 16th-century papal council and nurtured by a splinter group of conspiracy-minded Catholics, mystics, monarchists and disaffected conservatives -- including a seminary dropout and rabble-rousing theologist who also happens to be Mel Gibson's father."

In the 1992 El Pais interview, Gibson said that "For 1,950 years [the church] does one thing and then in the 60s, all of a sudden they turn everything inside out and begin to do strange things that go against the rules.

"Everything that had been heresy is no longer heresy, according to the [new] rules. We [Catholics] are being cheated. ... The church has stopped being critical. It has relaxed. I don't believe them, and I have no intention of following their trends. It's the church that has abandoned me, not me who has abandoned it," he said.

Frederick Clarkson, the veteran right-wing researcher and author of "Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy" (Common Courage Press) told WorkingForChange in an e-mail that "Traditionalist Catholics describes those who insist on practicing the Latin mass and other features of the church prior to the reforms of Vatican II. Some Traditionalists operate within the Church; others belong to a faction, the Society of Saint Pius X that has been excommunicated en mass for disobedience to the Pope. Its far right views include conspiracy theories that the Catholic Church is controlled by liberals as a result of an ancient conspiracy of Freemasons."

According to, a web site that aims "to foster devotion to the Tridentine Latin Mass and traditional forms of Roman Catholic piety, and to propagate the orthodox Faith of the Church," Gibson "attends the Tridentine Mass exclusively."

Furthermore, it is clear that Hutton Gibson adheres to an extraordinarily radical brand of these beliefs, as outlined in a speech he gave to a Holocaust-denial conference:
Gibson makes clear in this address that he believes the Catholic Church itself is the "foundation of Western civilization" and that its "destruction" is entirely for the purposes of bringing civilization under the control of unnamed "others," though it is clear he is referencing Jews. (Much of the rest of the Barnes Review conference was specifically devoted to attacking Jews.)

According to Gibson, the Catholic Church, because of Pope John XXIII (who had a "background in Freemasonry" and was "the first anti-Pope") and the "heresies" of Vatican II, has "fallen into utter depravity." All subsequent popes, he says, have in fact been "anti-Popes."

"For whose benefit?" he wonders. And then answers: "The New World Order," of course.

"Most Catholics today do not realize they have been robbed." And who has robbed them? The "international bankers" who have "subjected us to the usury which our Church formerly condemned."

Gibson adds that "our entire national monetary system is based upon a palpable fraud, and an unconstitutional one."

Echoing his previous note, he propounds: "Most Americans today do not realize they have been robbed." Again, it is those same evil "others" who have conspired to rob us, and for the same purposes.

The current Pope, he says, is "an absolute apostate heretic" who he claims does not even belong to the Church.

These beliefs do not merely fall into the category of so-called "Traditionalist Catholics" who object to Vatican II. This is extraordinary extremism, fully in line with the excommunicated Society of St. Piux X -- and in fact, is even more radical.

My friend Jean Rosenfeld, a Senior Research Associate at UCLA's Center for the Study of Religion, recently e-mailed me her thoughts on Gibson's film:
My sense of things is that Mel Gibson is marketing this movie brilliantly primarily through the Christian evangelical churches and fundamentalist venues. Religious films generally do not make much money or play in general release to first-run movie houses. There have been a number of articles just in the past week in major newspapers, such as the LA Times (in both the "entertainment" and "national news" sections), about Gibson's marketing campaign. Apparently, he put $25 million of his own money into the film. He needs to recoup that and make a profit.

I noticed this weekend when we went out to Hemet, CA, which is a very conservative Christian region, that the local multiplex theatre had a big sign on its marqee offering to accept reservations now for the future screening of "Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ." This is marketing with Gibson's name in a first-run theatre and is probably being replicated now in other regions.

A few days ago, Gibson spoke at a gathering at Azusa Pacific University, one of the best-endowed Christian colleges, about the film and allowed a limited screening of the film. Again, he is targeting and marketing through the fundamentalist Christian network. I have not heard of his conducting these advance screenings, meetings, and offerings of reservations at Catholic Universities and venues -- at least lately.

In fact, a lay committee set up by the the US Conference of Catholic Bishops was critical of the film in its report, and this early response was probably not too welcome to the marketers.

Since Gibson's father is a Holocaust denier and Gibson is funding the building of a Pius X church, I think it is fair to assume that they are not mainstream Catholics. Gibson has recognized that conservative Christians have an impressive and connected network through which film as product can be marketed to a vast audience. This allows Gibson to bypass moviegoers who would be less likely to see the film anyway -- secular and Jewish Americans.

So, what about Catholics? Why not aggressively market to them? Well, he tried to put the Pope's imprimatur on the film after arranging to screen it at the Vatican. As a result, he aroused criticism. Much was made of the fact that Pius X Catholics do not accept the reforms of Vatican II. One of those reforms was the declaration that the Church does not hold Jews responsible for the crucifixion. This caused critical Jews, like Foxman and Hier, and pro-Vatican II Catholics to join in airing their suspicions about the film's anti-Semitic message. (In response, Gibson now says he has removed an anti-Semitic verse from the gospel of Matthew from the film and has toned down the violence.) It appears that the film finds approval among conservative Christians, both Catholic and non-Catholic. It encounters wariness among Jews and mainstream Catholics.

This does not surprise me. If Gibson intended to make a "Catholic" film about Christ's trial and execution, his perspective turned out to be a schismatic one.

He tried to market it with a Vatican seal of approval. This means that he was intentionally presenting a pre-Vatican II treatment of the Passion as how Catholics would present it. Gibson claims his film is "faithful" to the gospels, he claims that a Pius X view is authoritative from a faith perspective. It is his word against that of the contemporary church. It is the claim of one who dissents from the articles of Vatican II, among which is the church's apology for its treatment of the Jews.

The irony is, as a Religion in the News article points out, that Pius X Catholics consider their way to be the only way to salvation. They regard fundamentalist Christians as false Christians. It is these "false Christians" who will make this "Catholic" film a financial success and who will use Gibson's film to convert other to their "false" Christianity.

The Pius X movement and the Christian fundamentalist movement have one thing in common that they do not share with Jews and mainstream Catholics: both exclude Jews from salvation unless they convert to their particular brand of inerrant Christianity. Mainstream Catholics and liberal Protestants make no such claim.

Gibson, Rosenfeld believes, is not gearing the film so much at anti-Semitism, which is simply latent in his radical belief system. Rather, he is targeting mainstream Catholics, with the intent of propagandizing them into believing that the Pius X churches are more valid than those in mainstream Catholicism.

[Note: Bill Cork's blog Ut Unum Sint is an excellent reference source for a broad range of information on the Passion and related controversies. Be sure especially to catch his superb post on the scenes in The Passion that exaggerate the role of the Jews -- none of which are based in actual Scripture.]

That killer right-wing humor

While interviewing Rudy Giuliani last week, that stalwart of journalistic probity, Bill O'Reilly, "joked" that he'd like to kill filmmaker Michael Moore.

O'Reilly, whose interviewing style has never managed to transcend its tabloid-TV roots -- and whose sense of humor, as anyone who has followed his running feud with Al Franken knows, is, ah, deeply impaired, to put it nicely -- was whining once again about how liberals are so mean to him and everybody else. (O'Reilly, heaven forbid, would never be mean to anyone else.)

In any event, O'Reilly apparently believed he was giving tit for tat regarding Moore's contention that George W. Bush was a "deserter":
O'REILLY: All right. I've got one more question for you, all right, and I need -- I need a really honest answer. I know you're a politician and you play it somewhat close to the vest.

Personal attacks. [Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry] McAuliffe over the weekend. Bush went AWOL. [Documentary filmmaker] Michael Moore. He's a deserter. [Some of the] books that are out -- you know, O'Reilly's a liar. Everybody's a liar. Everybody's a cheat and scoundrel, all right. You got attacked personally when you were mayor all the time. ...

[Giuliani then joins in on this prolonged whine: Yes, they're mean mean mean to him all the time too. And for no good reason.]
GIULIANI: You know, when I look at the primary in Iowa, I think that was part of maybe what happened. Edwards stayed out of doing that, and...

O'REILLY: Absolutely. It hurt -- it hurt Dean.

GIULIANI: I think it hurt Clark.

O'REILLY: It killed Clark. Once Jennings nailed him with the Michael Moore thing, deserter...

GIULIANI: Absolutely.

O'REILLY: ... it killed him.

GIULIANI: Yes, yes. I mean where the -- and I think with people even that dislike the president, they kind of -- they still feel...

O'REILLY: Right.

GIULIANI: ... this is too much, desertion is a crime punishable by death. Let's get real. I mean...

O'REILLY: Well, I want to kill Michael Moore. Is that all right? All right. And I don't believe in capital punishment. That's just a joke on Moore.

Ahem. Well.

A couple of observations:

-- There is a broad range of punishments for desertion, ranging from fines and brief imprisonment to capital punishment -- though the latter is typically only meted out on the battlefield. George W. Bush, one will be happy to note, studiously avoided the latter.

-- Moore didn't in any event suggest, in any shape, form or fashion, that he wished Bush dead -- nor even wished him to face any kind of punishment for his wartime behavior. He was, of course, simply pointing out the differences in character between the men, as exemplified by their military records. But then, the latter is a subject that conservatives have avoided almost as assiduously as Bush did his National Guard duty. Thus the "death penalty" diversionary nonsense.

-- Why do we wonder how supposedly responsible newscasters can get away with making remarks that in fact are likely to be taken seriously by the (marginally) less mentally stable folks in the right-wing population?

-- And why do we get the sneaking suspicion that O'Reilly isn't really joking regarding his real feelings about what he'd like to see happen to Michael Moore? I mean, well, did you laugh at the "joke"? After all, neither O'Reilly nor Giuiliani did.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Tim Russert goes AWOL

I'm not sure why Tim Russert, host of NBC's Meet the Press, has the reputation for being the bulldog interviewer that he has.

Well, I know why: He's very much the bulldog when it comes to Democrats and liberals.

With conservatives, well, he has a long track record of letting them off the hook. I know this from personal experience: One of my jobs at MSNBC (1998-2000) involved taping, transcribing and excerpting Meet the Press every Sunday.

And this Sunday's interview with George W. Bush was perfectly consistent with this trend.

This was particularly the case when it came time for Russert to try to nail Bush down on his military record, and particularly the question of whether Bush would release his records to the public. In fact, Bush specifically lied when he claimed that he had done so.

As Josh Marshall observes:
Several times during the exchange the president said that he had released his military records back in 2000.

That's not true. He's never released those records. And no one disputes that.

But Russert returned to the point and the final exchange went thus ...

MR. RUSSERT: Would you authorize the release of everything to settle this?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes, absolutely.

We did so in 2000, by the way.

Now, what to make of this?

The president gives a flat-out, unambiguous answer: he'll release all his military service records.

Then he tosses in that next line: "We did so in [2000], by the way."

Brad DeLong provides us with a strong overall analysis of the interview and Russert's failure to ask natural follow-up questions, including this point about the military-record portion:
Russert: The Boston Globe and the Associated Press have gone through some of their records and said there?s no evidence that you reported to duty in Alabama during the summer and fall of 1972.

President Bush: Yeah, they're they're just wrong. There may be no evidence, but I did report; otherwise, I wouldn't have been honorably discharged. In other words, you don't just say "I did something" without there being verification. Military doesn't work that way. I got an honorable discharge, and I did show up in Alabama.

Natural follow-up:

But you didn't fly 102 aircraft, did you? They didn't have any in Alabama, and when you returned to Texas in November 1972, you still didn't fly. In May 1973 your superior officers wrote that you hadn't shown up for duty in Texas, and you were grounded because you didn't show up for your annual physical exam.

What Russert actually did: Asked Bush if he would open his files, and let Bush claim that he had already done so in response.

Just to be clear about this: Bush seems to be claiming that the records that might exonerate him from the AWOL accusations may not exist. Of course, I've already pointed out that the only reason they might not would be related to the potential actions of Bush campaign staffers in destroying those records.

It is highly unlikely that the records were simply misplaced or lost. Recall, if you will, Aaron Brown's recent CNN interview with James Webb, the former Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, cited here:
As you mentioned there is some question about his attendance records. The White House has responded in a rather confusing way by saying that these records have been lost.

I can tell you having spent three years as assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs in charge of the guard and the reserve programs it would be very unusual to lose these records.

They are important for monitoring pay, also for the credit that you get for drill that goes against satisfactory performance in the guard and these sorts of things, so there are a lot of questions out there.

It's worth noting that Phil Carter of Intel Dump, himself a former Guardsman, analyzed the matter and concluded that there are numerous ways of obtaining the basic information about Bush's military performance, including attendance records, pay records, retirement points and income-tax records.

The fortunate flip side to Russert's general weakness is that he did elicit from Bush a promise to release all his records. This is, indeed, the lead and headline for the Washington Post's story about the interview:
Bush to Release Vietnam-Era Military Records

Bush's promise to release all of his military files, including pay stubs and tax records, has the potential to resolve the long debate over Bush's service from May 1972 to May 1973. No records have been found indicating he performed his duties during that period, but he received an honorable discharge, indicating that he had served properly.

Experts in such matters have said payroll records and Bush's annual "point summary" from the time -- neither of which has been released so far -- should demonstrate definitively how often Bush participated in drills. Such records, unless they have been purged, should exist on microfiche either in St. Louis or Denver.

Bush said it was unlikely those records still exist. Asked if he would allow their release, he replied: "Yeah, if we still have them. But, you know, the records are kept in Colorado, as I understand, and they scoured the records." Bush also said his campaign had already authorized the release of such information in the 2000 campaign, but no such information has been released.

Of course, the only bit of "documentation" provided by the Bush campaign was the notorious "torn document," which has been so ably deconstructed by Bob Somerby. Just to underscore how shoddy a document this is, Uggabugga has provided us with an example of what the document might look like were it to be restored.

All this, in fact, continues to point to the increasing likelihood that the Bush campaign was involved in a coverup that included destroying government records in order to "sanitize" Bush's military career for public consumption.

The one man who has gone on the record in saying he observed such behavior is a former Guardsman named Bill Burkett, who served in Bush's office when he was governor of Texas and is now retired.

As this account describes, citing Burkett's own words:
"As the State Plans Officer for the Texas National Guard, I was on full-time duty at Camp Mabry when Dan Bartlett was cleansing the George W Bush file prior to GW's Presidential announcement. For most soldiers at Camp Mabry, this was a generally known event.

The archives were closely scrutinized to make sure that the Bush autobiography plans and the record did not directly contradict each other. In essence it was the script of the autobiography which Dan Bartlett and his small team used to scrub a file to be released. This effort was further involved by General Daniel James and Chief of Staff William W. Goodwin at Camp Mabry.

Burkett later clarified, in detail, what he observed, and why he went public with it, in this account:
Air National Guard Commanding Officer Alleges Bush Military Records Cleansing

SUBJ: Military Records of George W. Bush ? Clarification Bill L. Burkett LTC (ret)

Within the morning press reports in the London Sunday Times and other publications, I am stated to have alleged that the staff of George W. Bush doctored [the key term] the military files of George W. Bush in whatever attempt to cover his military record.

Let me answer questions about my responses within a chronological pattern:

Was this politically motivated and coordinated with the Gore Campaign?

No. Not whatsoever. In no way did any member of the Gore Campaign or any election official, Republican or Democrat know my comments. My observations were responses to questions of how the file was developed; disseminated under the Freedom of information Act (FOIA) and what was missing within the files which would resolve the question of satisfactory participation. These were my personal responses to the asked questions that were not sanctioned by anyone, nor shared with anyone. They were made on the basis of my 28 year career, my working experience within the senior staff at the Texas National Guard headquarters and my knowledge of the operational procedures of the US military including the subject of personnel files of retired or discharged soldiers and airmen.

Why, do you believe, were you contacted?

Question 3 will background how this occurred which should be self-explanatory. The context of the DUI story indicated the mishandling or failure to fully disclose a past criminal record of Governor Bush. I believe that the military record and the irregularities that point to a possible extended period of nonperformance and early release may have also indicated a pattern of lack of full disclosure by the Governor and his campaign. This issue of military records had been highly visible on at least two previous occasions within the campaign, however, Senator Kerrey as an honored and decorated SEAL most recently focused on this issue within the last ten days I would guess that within the eleventh hour and following the revelation of the DUI story, the media and voters were waiting for the next shoe to drop. This issue may have been viewed as the next shoe.

In June of 1998 and with the full and personal knowledge of Dan Bartlett and the Governor, I reported problems of force structure, readiness operational efficiency personnel and procedures within the Texas National Guard. At that time, and periodically thereafter, I have been in contact with various [audio, video and print]news writers and publishers. In 1998, I provided sufficient detailed information including documentation of severe irregularities within the Governors own chain of command in an effort to correct those deficiencies which I believe undermined the Texas National Guard and in some cases broke the law.

How did your reference in this story develop?

I contacted a website that outlined the Governor's personal military career irregularities and suggested that there were two official documents that would resolve the issue of satisfactory and honorable service. Suddenly on Friday afternoon, my telephone became barraged with media calls and messages including those who had known of my previous whistleblowing but had failed report it. I explained my background and personal observations to each of them in minute detail, often repeating the entire process for clarity. I was extremely careful not to point an accusing finger, but rather shape a question which could resolve this allegation of integrity that had clouded the Bush campaign since June of 1999 ? the issue of his personal military service.

Did you allege that the governor's staff doctored the records?

No, instead I stated that the way this had been handled by the Bush staff including knowledgeable military officials at the Texas national guard, that it left the implication that the Bush staff had first incompetently provided an incomplete military file for the Governor which was consistent with his autobiography. I further observed that they probably did not anticipate that the file would be scrutinized to the level that it was. Whenever someone determined holes is service big enough to drive a Mack truck through additional information [all of which was unofficial and some in pencil notations] were then submitted to the press to answer questions. I further observed this "Trust me, I'm the Governor" approach had worked throughout Texas for George W. Bush within his tenure and the media had give the Governor a free pass without the same scrutiny as the Vice President until the eleventh hour revelation of the DUI. But this still left the basic question ? Why didn't Governor Bush simply release his military pay files and retirement points accounting records, which are the only OFFICIAL records that will show that he satisfactorily and honorably completed his service commitment?

Were there other issues that you discussed?

Yes. In each call, I, in essence scolded media representatives for not doing their homework and reviewing this information before the eleventh hour. When asked if I would go on record, I said, yes, I have nothing to hide even though I knew that the mention of my name with the Bush campaign would immediately strike a personal response because of my whistleblowing in 1998.

Again, was this a Democratic ploy as stated by Karen Hughes of the Bush staff?

No. Absolutely not.

Karen Hughes has again skirted the real issue and question. Dan Bartlett and the Governor have also refused to answer the basic question and furnish the OFFICIAL files that will resolve this issue. I am in no way linked to the Democratic Party. I am simply an energized citizen and retired soldier who would like to have the issues of each possible commander-in-chief resolved prior to the election, in order that we can escape holding another American Presidency hostage to actions and allegations by the opposing party in Congress. We have suffered from this partisanship for the past eight years. George W. Bush says that he is the only candidate who can bridge this impasse. This is his opportunity to start that process. This is what I believe other Americans share with me -- a sincere belief that they have the right and capacity to make educated decisions; but that candidates have the responsibility for full and complete disclosure.

I understand that Burkett was interviewed extensively for James Moore's forthcoming book, Bush's War for Re-Election. I'm very much looking forward to reading that.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum at Calpundit has a significant update -- solving, perhaps, the mystery of the torn document. This one will be fascinating to watch play out.

UPDATE 2: Marty Heldt also has a significant update -- having just received a letter from the National Personnel Records Center stating that there shouldn't have been any "new" documents in Bush's military records -- which appears to imply that the infamous "torn document" was inappropriately placed.

The letter also says: "It should be noted that tampering with or changing Federal records is a criminal offense under Title 18, Section 2071, and is punishable by fine or imprisonment."

Backyard bombers

The Houston Chronicle (which has been studiously ignoring the story) finally weighs in with a piece about the Texas cyanide bomb case:
Plans for arsenal a mystery despite guilty pleas

Like last week's AP story, there isn't a lot new here, and the description of the literature found in his possession as "anarchist" is misleading. Krar's literature was almost purely right-wing extremist, including Ku Klux Klan cards and The Turner Diaries, though apparently he did have a copy of The Anarchist's Cookbook, which is beloved by extremists of all persuasions. (Anarchists are another faction altogether, and they tend to be left-leaning, though ostensibly they are apolitical.)

Mostly, the story paints a picture of the Krars as cultlike kooks, which may well be accurate. But it severely plays down the potential threat they posed, as well as any perspective on the nature of that arsenal.

Nowhere, either, is there any assessment of the FBI handling of the case, nor do we get any sense of the possibility that there may well be more of these bombs out there -- the points which remain, of course, the most relevant aspects of the story.

None of this is surprising. When a paper is this late getting into the game, it shouldn't be a shock that it lags behind in other respects as well.

[Many thanks to Charles Kuffner and my old friend Robertjayb for the heads-up.]

A nakedly promotional note

For those interested, you can now pre-order my forthcoming book, Death on the Fourth of July: A Hate Crime, a Killing, and a Trial in Small-Town America.

It's due out in early June. I've been haggling with the publisher over the subtitle -- I don't think it emphasizes enough that the book in fact is a survey and history of hate crimes in modern America, wrapped around this singular case -- but it seems I'm going to lose out to the marketing department. Ah well.

In any event, I hope the book has at least a modest impact. A number of people have written me to say that my Orcinus posts about hate crimes have changed their views of the laws. (You'd be surprised how many liberals oppose the laws, primarily for civil-libertarian reasons.) I'm hoping the book makes clear exactly why these laws deserve our full support, perhaps to enough people that we can finally get a real federal hate-crime law passed.

The Whitewash Commission

I've already pointed out the nature of the allegedly "independent" commission named by George W. Bush to investigate the "intelligence failures" that led Bush and other top officials to allege that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which was the primary justification for invading Iraq in April of last year.

Namely, the commission leadership, as well as other of its members, is highly suspect. That this should occur when Bush himself is allowed to appoint a panel to investigate the actions of his own administration should come as no great surprise.

However, that's just the beginning of the problems with this commission. As Josh Marshall and others have observed, what really makes this alleged "investigation" grotesque is that the most germane question -- namely, Did the administration manipulate the intelligence available to it in such a way as to distort the reality of what was actually known about weapons of mass destruction? -- is in fact outside of the purview of this panel.

As Marshall puts it:
The commission doesn't appear to have any subpoena power, only the right to "full and complete access to information relevant to its mission as described in section 2 of this order."

… Anything the White House did with those CIA analyses, any fisticuffs between the Veep's office and the CIA, anything stovepiped through Doug Feith's operation at the Pentagon, anything that made its way from Chalabi's mumbo-jumbocrats to the the president's speechwriters -- that's all beyond their brief.

That this manipulation occurred seems highly likely. Recall, if you will, Washington Post warhawk columnist Jim Hoagland's pieces from before the war -- such as this one -- which detailed how Bush and his aides bullied CIA analysts into overstating the threat posed by Iraq. There have been numerous reports -- including this one from Time -- detailing Dick Cheney's arm-twisting visits to CIA headquarters to force those analysts to provide the administration with grist for its war mill.

But those questions will not be examined by this commission. Which means that they will not be examined at all -- at least not until Republicans are displaced from power in the Senate and House.

In the meantime, the makeup of the commission remains worth examining. Dwight Meredith at Wampum raises an excellent point about the appointment of Lloyd Cutler to the panel. As Dwight suggest, there's something seriously amiss when lawyers from the high-powered Washington firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering are allowed to serve on the panel investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as to act as witnesses for that panel, and to serve on the pre-war intelligence commission, all while simultaneously representing the Saudi Prince being sued by the Sept. 11 victims families as being the banker for Al Qaeda. It is a grotesque conflict of interest.

Meanwhile, the commission's co-chair, Chuck Robb -- one of its token Democrats -- is someone with a history of having ties to the Bush family. As Dan Conley details:
[M]y problem is with Robb as co-chair -- because he owes the Bush family too much. It was the Bush Justice Department that called off the dogs and allowed Robb to escape indictment in 1992. And why did they do that? I can think of three reasons:

1) Oil industry pressure. Robb was one of the best friends the U.S. oil industry had during his time in the Senate. Now why on earth would a Virginia Senator vote with the oil industry time after time? Robb was the son-in-law of Lyndon Baines Johnson ... his ties to Texas oil go way back. No doubt Robb and the Bush family have many of the same friends.

2) Electoral calculations. I would guess that the RNC and the Virginia Republican Party in 1992 preferred a weakened, unindicted Robb seeking re-election over an indicted and finished Robb who couldn't even win re-nomination over Doug Wilder or Virgil Goode. As it turned out, the GOP shot themselves in the foot by nominating Oliver North and Robb was re-elected ... but no one would have guessed that possible in 1992.

3) Payback. Chuck Robb provided a critical yes vote on Clarence Thomas ... without his support, the nomination would have gone down. Bush had a favor to repay.

Finally, Brad DeLong points to the strange decision to appoint both Patricia Wald and Laurence Silberman to the panel. Moreover, Silberman is the co-chair and clearly the head of the panel. Silberman's hatred for Wald is now legendary, and one cannot help but wonder if Wald will have any room to raise any kind of serious questions at all. Her appointment appears almost calculated to create serious internal tensions on the panel -- which might not be a bad thing, were it not for Silberman's history of manipulating official proceedings and intraagency conflicts for purposes of blocking legitimate outcomes.

Which brings us to the main event, namely, the commission co-chair himself. I've already described some of his previous activities. Here are the full details.

Laurence Silberman

The man named by George W. Bush to head has a longtime history as a notoriously partisan fixer and bulldog.

The first evidence of this came with his role in the October Surprise scandal. Here are the relevant excerpts from Gary Sick's definitive text on the case, October Surprise: America's Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Reagan (Random House, 1991), pp. 116-123:
One of the most mystifying events of the entire election year took place in late September or early October 1980. The basic facts are not in dispute. [Future National Security Adviser] Richard Allen, together with Robert McFarlane and Laurence Silberman, met at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C., with a Middle Easterner who offered to arrange the release of the American hostages directly to the Republicans. Beyond that rudimentary description, however, there is nothing but disagreement. Even people who admit attending the same meeting cannot agree on exact dates, times, or places.

… Allen has said that he was initially contacted by Robert McFarlane, then a senior aide to Senator John Tower of Texas. Tower was a longtime friend of vice-presidential candidate George Bush and he was at that time the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. McFarlane, a retired Marine Corps colonel, had been the executive assistant of the National Security Council under Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft in the Nixon and Ford administrations, and he was a strong supporter of the Reagan presidential candidacy.

… According to Allen, Silberman, and McFarlane, they had a relatively brief meeting in late September with a man who appeared to be of Middle Eastern origin. This man, who claimed to be in contact with representatives of the Iranian government, made a presentation in which he offered to arrange the release of the American hostages directly to the Republican campaign. This offer was rejected out of hand, according to the three American participants, and the meeting was terminated abruptly. Allen and Silberman later insisted that the man made no mention of military equipment or the possibility of an arms-for-hostages swap.

… Silberman said he told the man his offer was totally unacceptable since "We have one President at a time."

However, as Sick goes on to detail, there are numerous problems with their account.

The unidentified Middle Easterner likely was a self-described international arms merchant name Hushang Lavi, who claimed that he was the man at the meeting. He says Lavi fits the physical description the Americans gave, and he furthermore had substantial evidence of being involved in the meeting (some of which actually surfaced independently through a third party after his death). Lavi claimed that he represented two officials of the Iranian government, and was offering the hostages in exchange for a pledge of F-14 parts -- the same parts, you may recall, that played such a key role in the Iran-Contra scandal. But Sick reports that Lavi claimed the refusal was not the noble one described by Larry Silberman:
According to Lavi, his offer was rejected, but his recollection differed from those of the Americans. Lavi said the three Americans refused his offer on the grounds that they were "in touch with the Iranians themselves" and did not need his assistance. Both Allen and Silberman later insisted adamantly in interviews that the man they met was not Lavi.

Much of Sick's book, in fact, details that Lavi's characterization was substantially the case -- that is, the Reagan camp in fact was in close contact with other Iranians who controlled the hostages and were capable of releasing them.

The source for one of the key pieces of substantiation for Lavi's participation in the meeting was Ari Ben-Menashe, who had been a top agent and official in the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad from 1977 to 1987, and was directly involved in Iranian affairs. Ben-Menashe later went on to write a book detailing some of the key aspects of the October Surprise affair in a book titled Profits of War, which was dismissed as fantasy by American and Israeli officials, but whose chief components were later substantially corroborated.

According to Sick, Ben-Menashe largely confirmed Lavi's participation, but with a twist:
According to Ben-Menashe, the L'Enfant Plaza meeting was the result of an effort by Israeli intelligence to hasten the end of the hostage crisis.

The Israelis, Ben-Menashe said, were becoming increasingly uncomfortable about their involvement in U.S. domestic politics resulting from the Casey-Karubbi meetings in Madrid. … So they attempted, without success, to short-circuit the entire problem by arranging a swap that would put an end to hostage issue before the election. Lavi, he said, was working for Israel when he helped to set up the L'Enfant Plaza meeting.

Ben-Menashe said that he traveled to the United States in late September 1980 with Dr. Ahmed Omshei, a former professor at Tehran University and a consultant to General Fakuri, the Iranian minister of defense. It was Omshei, according to Ben-Menashe, who met with Allen, McFarlane, and Silberman at the L'Enfant Plaza as an unofficial representative of the Iranian government. Ben-Menashe claims that there was not one meeting but two, and that he was present at one of them. Lavi, he said, was involved in making the arrangements and was briefed on the discussions, but he did not actually participate in the meetings. Ben-Menashe agrees that the meetings did not result in any action related to the hostages, but he believes the offer was considered seriously by others in the campaign, at least for several days, before it was rejected.

As Sick goes on to detail, Hushang Lavi later approached officials from the independent third-party candidacy of John Anderson with an identical offer. And this offer was immediately reported to officials at the Carter administration, which was of course the proper and correct course for any patriotic American. Not so the Reaganites, as Sick explains:
Whoever the man was who met the Americans at the L'Enfant Plaza, and regardless of the nature of his offer -- whether an arms-for-hostages swap or simply a misguided attempt to intervene in the U.S. election -- it should have been reported to the administration. Here was a man who claimed to be in contact with representatives of Khomeini and who was offering to arrange a prompt release of the hostages. The very fact that such an offer was being made while negotiations were under way with Tehran was relevant to the negotiations. Perhaps this offer was a hoax. Perhaps he had his own political agenda. Perhaps his scheme had only a two percent change of success. No matter.

The correct response to such an offer is not to declare, "We have only one President at a time," as Silberman and Allen have claimed repeatedly, and then to walk away. The correct response is, "I'm sorry but you have come to the wrong address. Let me direct you to the proper authorities." …

Silberman, years later, argued that "such a report could have been leaked during the campaign" to embarrass the Reagan-Bush campaign in a "reverse twist." That argument may accurately reflect the suspicious state of mind that existed within the Reagan-Bush campaign. At a minimum, it suggests that short-term tactical political advantage outweighed the possibility, however slight, that the man actually may have had useful contacts with the Khomeini regime, as he claimed.

And as Sick explains in detail, it was clear that the Carter administration would not in fact have done as Silberman suspected -- because it had the ability to do just that with the Anderson campaign, and did not do so.

This incident, however, was only one of the early episodes in Silberman's career as an ethics-deprived Republican fixer. The next significant appearance of this role occurred in 1989, when Silberman and fellow Federalist Society member David Sentelle combined to overturn the Iran-Contra perjury conviction of Oliver North.

The prosecutor in that case, Lawrence Walsh, described their behavior thus in his book Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-Up:
"A powerful band of Republican appointees waited like the strategic reserves of an embattled army. The final evaluation of the immunity Congress had granted Oliver North and John Poindexter would be the work of yet another political force -- a force cloaked in the black robes of those dedicated to defining and preserving the rule of law. Although the judiciary is theoretically a neutral arm of government and judges are expected to eschew partisan politics, the underlying political nature of all government institutions was evident when a three-judge panel from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reviewed Oliver North's conviction in 1990."

This ruling was a real travesty, since it expanded the rights of defendants regarding limited-immunity grants such as North received to almost preposterous levels. Moreover, as Martin McLaughlin points out:
Silberman and Sentelle required the Independent Counsel to prove that neither the prosecutors nor any of the witnesses had been affected by the testimony given by North and Poindexter during weeks of nationally televised congressional hearings. This impossible requirement--essentially the proof of a negative--was the basis for dismissing the convictions of the two military officers who directed the illegal arms trafficking operation.

The North ruling was an important precedent in exactly the ways suggested by Walsh: it marked a turning in the conservative judiciary from merely adhering to conservative principles in its rulings to becoming, in effect, a lawless cabal that was willing to ignore basic principles of jurisprudence and equity in the law for the sake of obtaining a specific desired result, that is, one benefiting Republicans and members of the "conservative movement."

That tendency spread to other parts of the judiciary as well, but continued to be a regular theme in Silberman's rulings:

-- His ruling that the independent-counsel law was unconstitutional, rendered on behalf of another Federalist Society cohort, Ted Olson (the ruling was later overturned 8-1 by the Supreme Court).

-- His ruling blocking the Clinton legal team from discovering the source of media leaks that were emanating from the offices of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, another Federalist Society cohort whose appointment Silberman had connived behind the scenes to accomplish.

-- His ruling subsequent ruling denying the Secret Service from being shielded in testifying in the Monica Lewinsky matter, declaring that in trying to shield the agents. President Clinton had "declared war on the United States."

-- Even his most recent ruling as a member of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, which overturned a lower court's ruling that found the Justice Department's use of wiretaps under the Patriot Act was unconstitutionally overbroad. As the ACLU trenchantly observed: "As of today, the Attorney General can suspend the ordinary requirements of the Fourth Amendment in order to listen in on phone calls, read e-mails, and conduct secret searches of Americans' homes and offices." It is also well worth noting that none other than Ted Olson argued the administration's side in this case. One can only imagine, of course, what the court would have ruled had this initiative occurred under a Clinton or Gore administration -- but it is not hard to guess.

David Brock's book Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative gives us an especially close-up view of Silberman's extraordinary partisanship, because Brock became quite close to both Silberman and his wife, Ricky, who was one of the cofounders of the conservative (and Richard Mellon Scaife-financed) Independent Women's Forum.

Indeed, it becomes clear that Silberman played a central role in the campaign of dirty tricks dreamed up by the "conservative movement" against Clinton during his tenure, notably Brock's "Troopergate" story -- the now-admittedly phony tale that Arkansas state troopers enabled Clinton in a series of extramarital assignations. Moreover, both Silbermans, Ricky in particular, heavily influenced Brock's reportage in writing the book-length smear of Clarence Thomas' chief critic, The Real Anita Hill. But the judge himself, who became a "father figure" to Brock, was the real player. As Brock describes in Blinded by the Right (pp. 95-96):
If Republican aides were eager to abet my saving Hill, so were Thomas's closest friends. Among others, they included fellow D.C. Circuit Court Judge Laurence Silberman .... These people who knew Thomas best in the world, now my sources and soon-to-be friends of mine, told me nothing had happened between Thomas and Hill. No asking for dates. No dirty talk. No porn. Nothing. They conveyed a very convincing impression that they knew in their bones that Hill's story was a monstrous lie. And they were still in wild-eyed fury about it. Silberman speculated that Hill was a lesbian, "acting out." Besides, Silberman confided, Thomas would have never asked Hill for a date: Did I know she had bad breath?

Silberman also played a role in Brock's smearing of Democrats related to the Anita Hill charges against Thomas. As he later describes (pp. 112-113):
During the hearing there was a hue and cry from the right that someone hostile to Thomas had tipped the press off to Hill's confidential charges, which led to Hill's public testimony. In one section of the book [The Real Anita Hill], I was publicizing leaked charges, and in another I sought to identify the Democratic leaker who could be blamed for the entire mess and would forever be tarred by the right as a devil figure. I worked very hard to come up with a villain: Democratic Senator Paul Simon of Illinois. I accused Simon of illegally leaking Hill's confidential Judiciary Committee affidavit to the press, a conclusion for which I had no sources. I merely made a deduction from the record, not nearly the kind of evidence one needed to lodge a charge against a senator that, if true, warranted an Ethics Committee investigation. In his autobiography, published in 1999, Simon took issue with much of what I wrote about him. He told the story of meeting Judge Patricia Wald of the D.C. Circuit, a liberal whom I claimed was "close" to Simon and portrayed as a conspirator in the campaign against Thomas. After my book was published, Wald was scheduled to testify before one of Simon's subcommittees. Before she began speaking, Wald walked up to Simon and said, "Since we are close, I thought I should introduce myself." The two had never met. ...

Of course, it had been none other than Judge Silberman who gave me the false information on his colleague Pat Wald, whom he hated with a passion. Shortly after I dropped off the chapter titled "Trial By Leak" late one evening at the Silbermans' Georgetown home, stuffing it through the mail slot in their door like a surprise gift, my telephone rang in Woodley Park. Ricky and Larry were literally squealing with joy about the case I had constructed implicating Simon, a vocal critic of Silberman's during the judge's own confirmation hearing. They were passing the phone to each, marveling at my "genius" at the top of their lungs. "You got him. You nailed him. You fucked him. You killed him," they sang. …

Silberman played a significant role in Brock's publication of the phony "Troopergate" smear, about which even he had grave reservations before publishing it. But Silberman convinced him to go ahead (p. 146):
Though he was a sitting federal judge who would rule on matters to which the Clinton administration was a party, Larry strongly urged me to go forward [with "Troopergate"]. .... The trooper story would be much bigger than the Anita Hill book, he predicted. Clinton would be "devastated," and therefore the story could only enhance my reputation. ... [T]he judge told me he felt sure that if the same story had been written about Ronald Reagan, it would have toppled him from office. Clinton, he surmised, might be toppled as well ...

And finally, it's also worth noting that Ricky Silberman, according to Brock, was the person who had persuaded Kenneth Starr to become involved in the Paula Jones case even before he was named Independent Counsel. According to Brock (p. 187):
With Scaife's backing, Ricky was ready to put her fledgling group [the Independent Women's Forum] at the service of the anti-Clinton jihad, and as one of its first moves, she wanted IWF to file a friend of the court brief in the Paula Jones case, supporting Jones' contention that her case should go forward even while Clinton was president. And Ricky had a particular lawyer in mind to draft the brief: Kenneth Starr.

Of course, the Silbermans' cynicism was especially in view, since they held a rather dim view of Starr as easily manipulable, even though he was one of their fellow stalwarts in the Federalist Society and one of the conservative movement "in crowd." As Brock puts it (p. 188):
Favorably described by Georgetown doyenne Sally Quinn in the Washington Post as a member in good standing of the Washington establishment, Starr was the ideal front man for the job Ricky had in mind. Larry Silbereman, who had served with Starr on the D.C. Circuit Court, agreed. In conversations with me, Silberman … told me that he and other members of the right-wing legal establishment regarded Starr as a weak, unprincipled opportunist who was more interested in advancing his own ambitions than in conservative ideology. He was also considered na├»ve and politically clumsy. Starr's concern for burnishing his reputation and his desire to ascend to the Supreme Court, Larry said, made him susceptible to pressure from the liberal political establishment and the liberal Washington press corps. Of course, if Larry's view was correct, Starr was also susceptible to pressure from his patrons in the conservative movement, who mistrusted him and could make or break his career. …

And of course, the latter was precisely the factor that became predominant in Starr's ham-handed and ultimately destructive attempts to have Clinton impeached over the Lewinsky affair.

Silberman's cynical view of his fellow conservative jurists is also described by Brock at another juncture -- namely, the decision by his cohort David Sentelle to replace Robert Fiske as Clinton's special prosecutor with none other than Starr. According to Brock, Sentelle was actually doing Silberman's bidding (p. 192):
In conversations about Sentelle, who sat with Silberman on the circuit court, Larry suggested to me that he sometimes deployed Sentelle, whom Larry said he considered to be dim bulb, as a stalking horse for his own machinations. Sentelle had provided Silberman with a crucial second vote in the overturning of the Iran-Contra conviction of Oliver North by a vote of two to one. The unsigned opinion was issued per curiam, or by the court, which obscured Silberman's fingerprints.

One of Brock's first observations in Blinded by the Right about Silberman described his cynical manipulation of the law for partisan purposes (pp. 96-97):
A consummate Washington insider for more than two decades, Larry would often preface his advice to me with the wry demurrer that judges shouldn't get involved in politics -- "That would be improper," he'd say -- then forge ahead anyway. He was a behind-the-scenes adviser to the conservative editors of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and he delighted conservative audiences with his acid critiques of the liberal press. …

Brock discussed Silberman at length in an interview by Buzzflash after the release of Blinded by the Right:
BUZZFLASH: Now let's talk about another aspect of involvement in the judiciary. You were very involved with the Judge Clarence Thomas nomination hearings in terms of your writing for the right-wing. You also seemed quite involved with the Silbermans. It was still astonishing to see the extent that a sitting federal judge was interacting with the efforts to attack Clinton -- Judge Lawrence Silberman and his wife that is. Silberman gave you advice on proceeding with articles that attacked Anita Hill and the President.

DAVID BROCK: Judge Lawrence Silberman, who sits on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, was an appointee of President Reagan to that court. His wife Ricky was the vice-chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the period that Clarence Thomas was the chairman on the Commission. I met them originally as sources for my first book on the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings. They went beyond the role of source.

BUZZFLASH: And he was a sitting judge at the time?

DAVID BROCK: Yes he was a sitting judge. For example, they reviewed in draft the galleys of that book. And so it certainly went beyond a reporter-source relationship. And coming out of that, Judge Silberman became a mentor to me and was someone who I relied on, as well as Ricky, for political advice while I was at the American Spectator pursuing a lot of the anti-Clinton stories. When Ricky Silberman left the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, she founded, or was one of the co-founders, of the Independent Women's Forum -- it was actually her idea. And it was actually Ricky Silberman's idea to approach Ken Starr to file that friend-of-the-court brief in the Paula Jones case. And Ricky knew the Jones case was simply payback for the Anita Hill affair. She thought, wouldn't it be delicious that Clinton would now be accused of sexual improprieties in the same way that Clarence Thomas had been? Judge Silberman played an absolutely key role at a critical juncture.

I write in the book that I had misgivings about publishing the Troopergate article, even back at the time I was working on it. I had some concerns about -- both about the credibility of the troopers and also had some concerns about setting the precedent of vetting a sitting President's private life. Because again, Troopergate, you know, did not have anything to do at that time with sexual harassment. It was simply tales of alleged extramarital affairs, not even currently, but back when Clinton was governor of Arkansas. And so I was concerned about the journalistic precedent of that, and the political impact, and the impact on my own career if I went ahead with that story. And so I did seek advice from a handful of people, and Judge Silberman's advice was to publish the article. And I think it's fair to say, had he advised me not to, I very well might not have. That's how seriously I took his advice.

BUZZFLASH: Well, you say on page 146 of your book, in reference to that, "though, he was a sitting federal judge who would rule on matters to which the Clinton administration was a party. Larry strongly urged me to go forward."

DAVID BROCK: By the way, his court sits right below the Supreme Court. And so there are a lot of cases that come before the court dealing with the Executive Branch -- regulatory matters, things of that nature. When various assertions of executive privilege were being made by the White House during the impeachment, he sat in on at least one, if not more, of those cases.

BUZZFLASH: And Silberman did not recuse himself.

DAVID BROCK: No, he did not recuse himself, even though, as I said, he had been directly involved. I think it's clear that the kind of activity that Silberman was engaging in is not permitted. It falls into a category of the kind of partisan politics that's not permitted. And he was aware of this, because he would jokingly say to me that, when I would go to him for advice, he often started out saying something like well, it would be improper to advise you on this. And it was set sort of tongue-in-cheek, and then he would go ahead and advise me. So he was aware of what he was doing.

Aside from me, he was also very influential with the Wall Street Journal editorial page in terms of advice. And of course, the Journal editorial page was, along with the Spectator, probably the second principal anti-Clinton vehicle during that time.

Of course, Brock himself was virulently smeared for Blinded by the Right as a liar -- though no one, including Judge Silberman, ever contested what he wrote as false, nor ever presented evidence of it.

The portrait of Silberman that emerges from all these records is fairly clear: His appointment to head up the investigation of the "intelligence failures" in the invasion of Iraq is itself a supreme bit of extraordinary cynicism at work in the national body politic. The "Whitewash Commission" is not by any means a stretch. This panel simply will not be permitted to criticize any action of the Bush administration -- and is most likely, if anything, to blame President Clinton for any failures in the intelligence-gathering apparatus that brought this country to invade another nation under false pretenses.